Shooting attack at Canada's parliament leaves two dead.
OTTAWA, Ontario: A Canadian soldier standing guard at a war memorial in the country's capital was shot dead Wednesday, and heavy gunfire then erupted inside parliament. One gunman was killed, and police said they were hunting for as many as two others.
The bloodshed immediately raised the specter of a coordinated terrorist attack, with Canada already on alert because of a deadly hit-and-run earlier in the week against two Canadian soldiers by a man who police say was fired up with radical Muslim fervor.
U.S. and Canadian air defenses were put on heightened alert, and the American Embassy in Ottawa was placed on lockdown, officials said.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) "is taking appropriate and prudent steps to ensure we are adequately postured to respond quickly to any incidents involving aviation in Canada," said a U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Witnesses said the soldier was gunned down at point-blank range by a man carrying a rifle and dressed all in black, with a scarf over his face. They said the gunman then ran off and entered parliament, a few hundred yards away, where dozens of shots soon rang out.
People fled the complex by scrambling down scaffolding erected for renovations, while others took cover inside as police with rifles and body armor took up positions outside and cordoned off the normally bustling streets around parliament.
Ottawa police spokesman Chuck Benoit said two or three gunmen were believed to be involved in the attacks.
Gilles Michaud, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, called it a "dynamic, unfolding situation." Ottawa Hospital said it received three patients, all in a stable condition, in addition to the soldier.
"Today is a sad and tragic day for our city and our country," Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said. He said it was a tragedy with "origins as yet not fully known, causes not yet fully understood."
In Washington, President Barack Obama condemned the shootings as "outrageous," and in a telephone call with the prime minister, offered U.S. help and reassurance of the American people's solidarity with Canada.
Tony Zobl said he witnessed the soldier being gunned down from his fourth-floor window directly above the National War Memorial, a 21-meter, granite cenotaph, or tomb, with bronze sculptures commemorating World War I.
"I looked out the window and saw a shooter, a man dressed all in black with a kerchief over his nose and mouth and something over his head as well, holding a rifle and shooting an honor guard in front of the cenotaph point-blank, twice," Zobl told the Canadian Press news agency.
"The honor guard dropped to the ground, and the shooter kind of raised his arms in triumph holding the rifle."
The attack came two days after a recent convert to Islam killed one Canadian soldier and injured another with his car before being shot to death by police. The killer had been on the radar of federal investigators, who feared he had jihadist ambitions and seized his passport when he tried to travel to Turkey.
Canada had raised its domestic terror threat level from low to medium Tuesday because of what it called "an increase in general chatter from radical Islamist organizations."
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